Champagne expert Tyson Stelzer reveals the best way to store, open and pour sparkling wine.
How to open a bottle of bubbly
First, ensure nobody has shaken the bottle before you get hold of it (not funny!).
Always have a target glass nearby to pour the first gush into, but not too close. Check the firing range for chandeliers and unsuspecting passers-by and re-aim if necessary.
Remove the capsule using the pull-tab, if it has one. Hold the bottle at 45 degrees and remove the cage with six half-turns of the wire, keeping your thumb firmly over the end of the cork, in case it attempts to fire out of the bottle. I prefer to loosen the cage and leave it on the cork, which can assist with grip.
Twist the bottle (not the cork) slowly and ease the cork out gently. If you encounter a stubborn, young cork, use a clean tea towel to improve your grip. When the cork is almost out, tilt it sideways to release the gas slowly. It should make a gentle hiss, not an ostentatious pop. This is important, as it maintains the maximum bead (bubbles) in the wine and reduces the risk of a dramatic gush.
Champagne is often served much too cold. Poured at fridge temperature, it will taste flavourless and acidic. The only exceptions are particularly sweet styles, which are best toned down with a stern chill.
In general, the finer the wine, the warmer I tend to serve it. The Champenois suggest 8–10°C for non-vintage and rosé styles, and 10–12°C for vintage and prestige wines. On a warm day, serve Champagne a touch cooler, as it will soon warm up.
Always hold a champagne glass by its base or stem, to avoid warming the wine in your hand. This will also reduce the likelihood of any aromas on your hands interfering with its delicate bouquet.
Age and cellaring
Champagne spends the first years of its life in a dark, humid, chalk cellar under Champagne at a constant temperature of 8–10°C, so it will get a rude shock if it’s thrust into a warmer environment. If you don’t have a climate-controlled cellar, err on the side of caution and drink it within a few years.
Champagne in clear glass bottles is remarkably light-sensitive, so keep it in the dark at all times. If it comes in a box, bag or cellophane wrap, keep it covered until you serve it.
Champagne holds its bead longest in an elongated glass, but don’t select one so narrow that you can’t get your nose in to appreciate the bouquet. The Champenois prefer slightly wider glasses than typical champagne flutes, to allow their finest cuvees sufficient space to open out. Think halfway between a flute and a fine white wine glass.
The traditional flat champagne ‘coupe’ glasses are now practically unheard of in Champagne. They are inferior because the large surface area evaporates both bead and aroma rapidly.
How to pour champagne
Check that the wine tastes right, then pour half a glass for each drinker, topping them up after the ‘mousse’ has subsided. You can tilt the glass to minimise frothing.
This is an edited extract from The Champagne Guide by Tyson Stelzer, published by Hardie Grant.